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If you couldn’t live in America, your 2nd choice?

A more benevolent people, I have never known … Their kindness and accommodation to strangers is unparalleled … Their eminence too in science … the politeness of the general manners, the ease and vivacity of their conversation, give a charm to their society to be found nowhere else … ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, In what country on earth would you rather live? — Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections and recollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders esteem kind, friendly, helpful people.
In 1789, after five years in France, Jefferson made plans to return home. His thought was to enroll his daughters in school and return for a time. President Washington had other ideas, and Jefferson remained in America as his Secretary of State.

Jefferson’s fondness for France and its people was probably magnified by two things not mentioned here:
1. France’s aid in America’s revolutionary war, with money and men, both essential to its success
2. A movement toward the republican rights of man that began during his time there. He thought America’s independence and the coming French abolition of the monarchy would fan the flames of republican government throughout the world.

He was wrong about the course France would take, and the effect it would have. Yet, 30 years later as he wrote this account, he still harbored the fondest thoughts toward his second home. Nor did he waver in his belief that ultimately, the freedom America had achieved and that France hoped for would be models for the world.

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Right or wrong to behead the King and Queen?

The deed [beheading the king and queen] which closed the mortal course of these sovereigns, I shall neither approve nor condemn. I am not prepared to say that the first magistrate of a nation cannot commit treason against his country, or is unamenable [unanswerable] to it’s punishment: nor yet that where there is no written law, no regulated tribunal, there is not a law in our hearts, and a power in our hands, given for righteous employment in maintaining right, and redressing wrong … I should have shut up the Queen in a Convent, putting harm out of her power, and placed the king in his station, investing him with limited powers, which I verily believe he would have honestly exercised, according to the measure of his understanding.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes leaders just lose their heads.
Jefferson didn’t take a position to “approve or condemn” guillotining the monarchs. His sentence which follows is a challenge to interpret, but here’s what I think he’s saying:
1. A king can be guilty of treason (but not saying this king was).
2. A king is not exempt from punishment for grievous actions.
3. When there is no written law and rulers have no limits, the people have the authority to take matters into their own hands and exercise it wisely for “maintaining right, and redressing wrong.”

Having the right to act in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the best way. Jefferson would have chosen a different path. He would have neutered the queen’s influence by sequestering her. He would have given the king what limited powers he was capable of exercising honestly. This would have eliminated the void into which Napoleon stepped and the years-long terror unleashed on Europe.

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How to bring unity out of conflict, Pt. 3 of 3

The discussions began at the hour of four, and were continued till ten o’clock in the evening; during which time I was a silent witness to a coolness and candor of argument unusual in the conflicts of political opinion; to a logical reasoning, and chaste eloquence, disfigured by no gaudy tinsel of rhetoric or declamation, and truly worthy of being placed in parallel with the finest dialogues of antiquity … The result was an agreement …
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A conducive atmosphere (and a crisis) can bring out the very best in leaders.
The previous two posts explained:
1. Setting the stage for bringing eight conflicting leaders together
2. A clear presentation of the danger ahead and the need for compromise
The final post in this series shows how the participants conducted themselves in the negotiations.

Well-fed, relaxed and lubricated with a little wine, eight squabbling French patriot leaders spent six hours face-to-face discussing their positions while Jefferson observed. He saw:
1. A calmness and straightforwardness “unusual” among political opponents
2. Clear-thinking that was modestly presented
3. None who sought to gain advantage by verbal skills

Jefferson was a great fan of “antiquity,” literature, architecture, ideas that had stood the test of centuries. He ranked this six-hour debate as equal to any of “the finest dialogues” recorded of ancient times.

“The result,” of Lafayette’s leadership, the patriots’ honest discussion, with an assist from Jefferson’s facilitation, “was an agreement.” They accomplished their purpose!

Four years later, at age 81, Jefferson wrote, “Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.” These men set aside their pride for the greater good.

Now, if it hadn’t been for a weak king and his evil, domineering queen …

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How to bring unity out of conflict, Part 2 of 3

The cloth being removed and wine set on the table, after the American manner, the Marquis introduced the objects of the conference by summarily reminding them of the state of things in the Assembly, the course which the principles of the constitution were taking, and the inevitable result, unless checked by more concord among the Patriots themselves. He observed that altho’ he also had his opinion, he was ready to sacrifice it to that of his brethren of the same cause: but that a common opinion must now be formed, or the Aristocracy would carry everything, and that whatever they should now agree on, he, at the head of the National force, would maintain.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This is what servant leadership looks like.
Yesterday’s post showed how the Marquis de Lafayette, with Jefferson’s help, set the stage for a pivotal meeting among rivals and what positioned them for a productive outcome.

Now, the eight French patriots have gathered. Look what happened:
1. Jefferson dined them (very well, no doubt!). Conviviality established. Hunger banished.
2. The table was cleared and a workspace created.
3. Wine, but no hard drink, was set upon the table.
            (Never underestimate the moderate use of alcohol to lubricate a meeting.)
4. Lafayette, the leader, summarized the situation before them
   – The legislative debate on a constitution was headed in the wrong direction.
   – An unpleasant result was inevitable if these men could not reach some agreement.
5. Lafayette volunteered to compromise his own position.
   – He would sacrifice his views to those of the group.
   – Whatever they all agreed upon, he would take that cause to the nation.

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How to bring unity out of conflict, Part 1 of 3

I received one day a note from the Marquis de la Fayette, informing me that he should bring a party of six or eight friends to ask a dinner of me the next day … These were leading patriots, of honest but differing opinions sensible of the necessity of effecting a coalition by mutual sacrifices, knowing each other, and not afraid therefore to unbosom themselves mutually. This last was a material principle in the selection …
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders need privacy, trust and encouragement to speak openly.
The French national assembly needed to make a proposal to the King regarding future governance. With too many competing interests, they were unable to reach an agreement. This post and the next two will highlight essential principles in bringing unity out of conflict.
1. One person took the lead.
2. A neutral meeting place was chosen by the leader.
3. An uninvolved individual facilitated the gathering.
4. The meeting began with a meal.
5. The attendees were all influential leaders.
6. They were honest patriots committed to a common cause.
7. Although they differed, they understood a unified coalition was essential.
8. Each man would have to give up something to create that coalition.
9. They knew one another well enough to be able to speak freely.

Others might have been invited except for # 9: Familiarity with one another, and the resulting trust that came with it, allowed the risk-taking necessary to speak honestly. This was essential if there was to be any chance of success.

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Off with her head!

But he [King Louis XVI] had a Queen [Marie Antoinette] of absolute sway over his weak mind, and timid virtue … [with] some smartness of fancy, but no sound sense was proud, disdainful of restraint, indignant at all obstacles to her will, eager in the pursuit of pleasure, and firm enough to hold to her desires, or perish in their wreck. Her inordinate gambling and dissipations … had been a sensible item in the exhaustion of the treasury … her inflexible perverseness, and dauntless spirit, led herself to the Guillotine, & drew the king on with her, and plunged the world into crimes & calamities which will forever stain the pages of modern history.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A weak leader with a strong, evil advisor (or wife) is bad news for all!
The previous post explained how the King of France might have become the head of a constitutional monarchy in 1789, giving broad new rights to his people. Except for the influence of his wife …

Marie Antoinette (1755-93) was 15 when she married the 16 year old Dauphin of France. She became Queen at age 19, when he was installed as King Louis XVI. By Jefferson’s account, she was superficially impressive, but arrogant, headstrong, belligerent, perverse, and given to her own pleasures at the extreme expense of others. In contrast, the King, while honest, was weak and timid, and her influence over him was evident. She was guillotined in October, 1793, 10 months after her husband had met the same fate. Both were 38 years old.

“Let them eat cake,” a derisive remark to the bread-less peasants of France, is often attributed to the Queen. It cannot be documented and is most likely fiction, though the sentiment has some basis in fact.

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How much chain to give the junk yard dog?

And here again was lost another precious occasion of sparing to France the crimes and cruelties thro’ which she has since passed …The king was now become a passive machine in the hands of the National assembly … and had he been left to himself, he would have willingly acquiesced in whatever they should devise as best for the nation. A wise constitution would have been formed, hereditary in his line, himself placed at it’s head, with powers so large as to enable him to do all the good of his station, and so limited as to restrain him from it’s abuse.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A constitution should both empower and restrain.
The French were grappling with the scope of a new government. The king was willing to accept great changes. The result could have been a hereditary constitutional monarchy.

Jefferson would have welcomed such a government, though he despised monarchies, and especially hereditary ones. Why? Because gaining half a loaf was better than no loaf at all.

That constitution might have done what all constitutions should do, regardless of the form of government created. They should grant enough authority to government leaders to enable them to do good, while limiting that authority to prevent abuse.

The reason the French failed to accomplish this might surprise you. It will be the subject of the next post.

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Half a loaf? A whole loaf? Or no loaf at all?

I was much acquainted with the leading patriots of the assembly. Being from a country which had successfully passed thro’ a similar reformation, they were disposed to my acquaintance, and had some confidence in me. I urged most strenuously an immediate compromise; to secure what the government was now ready to yield, and trust to future occasions for what might still be wanting … They thought otherwise however, and events have proved their lamentable error. For after 30. years of war, foreign and domestic, the loss of millions of lives, the prostration of private happiness, and foreign subjugation of their own country for a time, they have obtained no more, nor even that securely.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders settle for half a loaf now and hope for more later.
Jefferson wrote at length about the start of the French Revolution. He had a ring-side seat as America’s ambassador to France.

Power in France was concentrated in the hands of the king, the nobles and the priests. Any new rights granted to others meant a decrease in those enjoyed by a privileged few. The king had already made serious concessions: guarantees of basic rights of conscience, freedom of the press, habeas corpus, trial by jury and more. It wasn’t all that the reformers wanted, but it was far more than they had. Jefferson’s advice: Take what you can get now, and get more later!

Those reformers disagreed, and their losses over the next 30 years were staggering! They didn’t have as many rights in 1821 then as they’d been offered in 1789. The rights they did have weren’t all that secure.

No doubt the reformers thought they could get the whole loaf at the beginning and wouldn’t settle for less. They were so very wrong.

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Can Washington make wise decisions for you alone?

Were we directed from Washington when to sow, & when to reap, we should soon want bread.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders trust individuals to make their own decisions, for good or bad.
I excised this sentence from the last post (where you see the ellipses near the end) because I wanted to offer it all by itself. You will find this quote at the upper right corner of every page of my web site. It defines Jefferson’s view of the national government.

His view wasn’t critical of that government, so much as it was a statement of what that government should NOT be about. Washington should concern itself only with the limited and specific responsibilities given it by the Constitution. That included only what lesser authorities could not provide:
– National defense
– International relations
– Promotion of commerce
– Protection of individual rights
Every other authority belonged to the states. Wise state leaders would further delegate responsibility to its counties and towns, leaving as much authority as possible in the hands of the individual.

Who knows best when to plant and harvest crops, the farmer himself or the national government? It’s a silly question, with a common sense answer. Jefferson feared unaccountable and over-reaching federal authorities, judges in this case, who entertained such questions far outside their realm and dictated solutions far removed from common sense.

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Where is power exercised most wisely?

But it is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within it’s local bounds; each county again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by it’s individual proprietor … It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders don’t consolidate power. They delegate it broadly.
This excerpt builds on the previous two posts, where Jefferson lamented:
1.The Constitution let federal judges serve for life, effectively answerable to no one, and
2. Even honest judges could be swayed toward maximizing their control.

For the nation’s first 12 years, all of its federal judges were appointed by Presidents Washington and Adams, who favored a strong, activist national government. Any such government naturally seeks more power, more control. With lifetime appointments, judges’ tenure extended far beyond those administrations

Jefferson’s Presidency was served under an occasionally hostile judiciary, judges who aided in the consolidation of power in the national government.

Jefferson believed exactly the opposite. Good government was not consolidated but diffused and apportioned throughout, from the national level to states to counties to townships and finally, down to the individual land owner. Each entity should do what it could do best for itself.

Where is power exercised most wisely? At the level where people are most affected by it and by those people for themselves.

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